NHL plays waiting game on Slava Voynov reinstatement

The NHL may have to make a decision on Slava Voynov's possible return in the relatively near future. Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- The potential return of Slava Voynov is one of the hottest of hot-button issues facing the National Hockey League.

Voynov, 28, was a standout defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings when he was arrested in Oct. 2014 on misdemeanor domestic violence charges after a bloody incident involving his wife, Marta Varlamova. Voynov was suspended indefinitely by the NHL. He pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse and spent nearly two months in jail. Rather than spend an undefined amount of time in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation hearings, Voynov agreed to voluntarily leave the country and return to Russia.

The Kings terminated his six-year contract, and Voynov revived his career with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. While Voynov represented the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the NHL barred him from playing in its 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament.

"I know his party is interested in understanding the parameters under which he'd be allowed to rejoin the league," deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday in Las Vegas.

But would the league allow him back? Daly said it's too early to address that.

"There are a couple of legal hurdles that I understand still have to be passed. Until he gets past those, I don't think we're ready to comment on it," he said.

The National Hockey League Players Association told ESPN on Tuesday that Voynov "does in fact have some legal procedures in California that he needs to work out" following his "voluntary deportation." The Los Angeles Times reported that Voynov's court records show "his court-ordered probation expires in July."

Eventually, the NHL will have to rule on Voynov's eligibility. Then comes the real intrigue: Which team, if any, will sign someone who did jail time for spousal abuse, and how will they explain that decision to their fans?

Four different NHL teams are in the process of getting new arenas. Some are closer than others:

  • Daly said the New York Islanders' plan to build a new rink at the site of Belmont Park racetrack is progressing. "The current ownership is still committed to the Belmont project, and there's been no hurdles to that yet," he said of the project that could produce a new building in three years. "Once they're in the ground, the equation changes."

  • The Ottawa Senators have been trying to get a downtown arena project off the ground. Daly acknowledged there was "a lot of interest early on about a downtown arena," but would leave it to owner Eugene Melynk to navigate the political waters that could lead to one. Earlier in the day, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the Senators aren't for sale, despite widespread calls for Melynk to give up his controversial ownership of the team.

  • The Calgary Flames, meanwhile, face a bleak situation in their pursuit of a new building. "All indications now is that it's a dead end. But dead ends tend to become non-dead ends at some point in time," Daly said. "The franchise needs a new arena." The Calgary city council recently voted to form a committee in order to restart negotiations with the Flames, after Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the team had reached a contentious stalemate.

  • Then there are the Arizona Coyotes. The team has spent a few years in limbo, wanting to leave its current building in Glendale but unable to find another location locally for a new rink. "They're working on it," said Daly, who indicated the NHL was recently briefed on a conference call about the Coyotes' status. "There continues to be a high level of confidence that they can get something done." Daly said the Coyotes had "at least three" arena options in the planning stages.

The NHL's postseason format was under fire from several places this season, from perceived inadequacies in the wild-card races to the early-round series between highly seeded teams that might have earned easier matchups using a different system.

But Daly said there's no desire to alter the current playoff format. In fact, he said the NHL considers it one of the most effective formats they've had.

"We've taken a look at it very thoroughly. From an interest standpoint, from a revenue standpoint, this current playoff format has been better than any playoff format we've had before," he said. "I think from the league's perspective, there's no reason to change it."

A recent survey by Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic found that two thirds of NHL general managers wanted to have the playoff format changed, with an eye on expanding the playoff field.

A few more random notes from the NHL's State of the League address:

  • Daly said current revenue projections indicate that the NHL salary cap will be between $78 million and $82 million next season. It was at $75 million this season. One factor in the increase? The Vegas Golden Knights' windfall. "There's a lot of revenue generated by the Las Vegas franchise. They've been an overall positive, and can add to the revenue we use to determine a salary cap. But it's also a 31st team in that revenue pool," said Daly.

  • Daly said that the NHL is bringing back third jerseys next season, designed by Adidas. "We are bringing back third jerseys next season. I can't tell you the number exactly, but about a third of the teams will have a different one," he said.

  • The league has signed a three-year deal to keep the NHL awards show in Las Vegas.

  • Finally, Daly said the next World Cup of Hockey is being discussed with the NHLPA, including concepts of what and where the tournament might be. But the international calendar is still in flux because of a number of factors, including the looming expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. "We welcome the opportunity to create labor certainty if there's an opportunity to create it, earlier rather than later," said Daly. "There's a shared desire to try to at least have those discussions to get there. We're prepared to have those discussions at any point in time."